Thursday, October 6, 2011

Snare sculpture program launched


Well known Zimbabwean artist Susan Cottrell spent a week at the lodge recently training the anti poaching scouts and other interested members of staff on the basics of sculpting wire. Susan approached BHAPU with this innovative way of turning snares into a, much needed, revenue generating scheme. We have over 4,000 wire snares at the lodge that have been collected by the anti poaching unit over the past year which would normally just be destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands and being used again. The students showed great potential and Susan has promised to return in the near future to track their progress. We hope to expand this initiative into the surrounding communities in the near future. 

Mandebvu - Ode to the Lion


The last male lion in the Bumi area was tragically shot by a trophy hunter recently. Below is an account of his life as pride male at Bumi over the past 5 months. We will all miss this special animal and wish we could have done more to prevent his death.

Signs of a vagrant
New spoor, much larger than that of our lionesses, louder and longer grunts at night, partially eaten kills, and a very fidgety pride of lionesses who moved greater distances every night but always returned to the safety of the open ground around the airstrip. All these signs suggested a male lion was in our midst. Two males had been spotted swimming across the Ume River 20km away in February from the Matusadona National Park, could this be one of them? Despite much searching, he evaded us for over a month; little did we know this would not be the last time he would show us he was able to become invisible in broad daylight!

All was revealed   
On an early morning game drive in late March, Madison Siyakalangu, the senior guide at Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, came across a particularly rare sight at Bumi, a mating pair of lions! At last this intruder had revealed himself, and there was great excitement as we rushed down to the airstrip to ‘meet’ this beast. He had a very scruffy mane that was not yet fully black, was covered in ticks and had a scratched up face. He was also extremely nervous of these motorised zebra’s that drove around this part of the bush he had ended up in. Often all the attention he received while he was trying to pass on his genes to our ladies was too much to deal with and he would mock charge the vehicles or snarl and growl loudly if we ventured too close. We all wondered what our young pride of lionesses found attractive about this vagrant, who’s less than perfect appearance and bad temper was certainly no match for their elegance. Was this just to be a fleeting romance or was this new man destined to become king of the Bumi jungle? 

The first week...
Over the next six days we kept a close eye on him and Gamma the lioness who, true to feline form, mated every 20 minutes, day and night. The rest of the pride seemed confused by this behaviour and often tried to interfere with the couple in the first few days. They would move off at night to hunt but would always return to the vicinity of the mating couple to lie up for the day. For the six days they were copulating, neither Gamma nor he ate anything  and became much leaner than when they were first spotted. On the seventh morning we found the pride, including Gamma, feeding on a zebra they had killed but there was no sign of the male. His calls could not be heard any more and his tracks were nowhere to be seen. Suspicions arose regarding his disappearance. Had he come all the way for a brief interaction with only one of the six pristine ladies at Bumi? Had he been rejected by the rest of the pride? Had we scared him away with all the attention?

Siesta over
Early on the fifth morning after he and Gamma had finished mating, he returned as stealthily as he had disappeared, and was spotted lying alone in the middle of the airstrip surveying his new kingdom. It seemed at that point that this man was here to stay and he was aptly named ‘Mandebvu’ by our guides which means ‘beard’ in the local Shona and Tonga languages. He had obviously spent the time away recovering from his lengthy and passionate ordeal with Gamma as he was very energetic, once again mock charging vehicles, and in one instance half heartedly chasing our tractor along a road for nearly a kilometre, much to the disgust of the petrified driver! The ladies found him that evening and the new pride, with Mandebvu at the helm was formed. It was not long after this than he began mating with Alpha, the oldest lioness in the Bumi pride, and the whole cycle repeated itself, complete with his customary disappearing act each time he finished mating with one of the ladies! He was very shy in these early days and often reinforced to us that he did not enjoy our presence with frequent mock charges and a lot of growling. We learnt very quickly to keep our distance from the pride if he was with the ladies, which was quite foreign to all of us, as they were much more accepting of the motorised zebras containing funny smelling, camera-bearing humans who spent hours ogling over them at every opportunity.
  
The patroller
In the following months Mandebvu slowly settled into his new role as family protector. He was a great patroller and spent two or three days away from the pride every fortnight patrolling the boundaries of his new kingdom, roaring loudly to ward off any potential rival suitors. During these patrols he travelled great distances at a fairly brisk pace and would regularly pass the front of the lodge at night calling every couple of minutes as he did so. It was on one of these patrols that he nearly lost his life by becoming entangled, with a wire snare around his neck.

Fortunately it was made of steel wire, not stainless steel cable as happened to Delta, one of the pride lionesses who was caught in October 2010 resulting terrible wounds which would have certainly killed her if it was not for the quick actions of the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit (BHAPU) and Steve Edwards, owner of Musango Safari Camp, who arranged for a wildlife vet to fly in and dart her. Roger Parry, from the Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust, successfully darted Delta, removed the snare and treated te gaping wounds which have now completely healed. Delta has regained her place as an integral member of the resident pride.
Mandebvu was somehow able to break the wire at the point where it was anchored, probably the base of a tree. This posed a new problem as the noose was still wrapped around his neck and the loose end was dragging along the ground behind him. He did two amazing things in the days following this incident, both of which exuded magician like qualities. After we had spotted the snare around his neck we immediately called for the assistance of a team of wildlife vets who were working nearby to come in and attempt to dart him so we could remove the snare. The vets arrived within an hour of when he was first spotted, but he had disappeared into a small area of bush surrounded by roads. Despite thorough searching on foot supported by vehicles driving around the quadrant of bush, Mandebvu could not be found, and there was no sign of any of his tracks leaving the area either. He had totally disappeared and we despairingly gave up the search as the light faded. The next few days were very worrying as the search continued with no success until eventually he was spotted, with no snare around his neck! Not only could he disappear into thin air but he was also an escape artist, Harry Houdini, eat your heart out!

Pride Dynamics
It was very interesting to watch how the pride dynamics constantly changed over the five months that Mandebvu was in charge. There were often times in the beginning where he would just lie about lazily as the lionesses hunted, only bothering to move once they had caught and killed the quarry, at which point he would rush in to eat his proverbial ‘lions share’. As he spent more time in the pride he began helping out more with the hunting duties, throwing his weight behind the females in order to pull down larger prey. With his assistance they became a very efficient hunting unit and it was not long before they were targeting buffalo as their main quarry. This was certainly not the case before Mandebvu’s arrival when the ladies could only manage to bring down smaller prey which meant they were forced to hunt more often.

The Tragedy
This improved hunting prowess and their newfound desire for buffalo meat over other animals eventually led Mandebvu and his pride to a terrible tragedy. As the lake level rose, following the heavy rains in the Zambezi River catchment area, the nutrient-rich floodplains surrounding the lake disappeared below the water surface and the majority of the grazing animals, including the resident herd of buffalo, were forced to move inland in search of grazing and naturally the pride followed them. The unfenced southern boundary of the protected Bumi Hills Wildlife Area is shared with a big game hunting outfit and, as there are so few left, a male lion is one of the most prized trophies. With the pride spending most of there time on or near the boundary hunting following the buffalo heard we realised that there was a real danger of either the pride moving out of the protected and snare-free area or Mandebvu falling victim to a trophy hunters bullet. Unfortunately, even though plans had been put in place to purchase a tracking collar for him in an attempt to monitor his movements, these were too late and he made a mistake that cost him his life.

The professional hunter, his trackers, and game scouts from the local authority hung a chunk of hippo meat in a tree that overhangs the Nyamasango River at a point where the gently sloping banks provide a perfect crossing point for all forms of wildlife. This controversial practice of baiting or luring carnivores, especially big cats, to a place where the hunters are waiting in ambush, with the use of meat, has been used in hunting circles for centuries, especially in the rugged terrain of Southern Africa. Mandebvu, tragically, decided on that fateful day that a free meal was too irresistible to pass up, and was shot dead on the very border that our anti-poaching scouts have worked on, tirelessly, for months in an attempt to safeguard it from the threat of subsistence poachers and their wire snares. It is sadly ironic that after all the hard work that has been put in to making this area safe for animals to live in, it is now even less safe, as this professional outfit has recognised how much game has moved back into the area and are conducting much of their hunting in this area.

There are a number of questions that can be raised here, the main question though is whether we will ever get any answers: 
  •  Does shooting the last male lion in an area show sustainable hunting practice?
  • ·        Is luring an animal, habituated to humans, to the boundary of a photographic area with the use of bait, ethical? Where is the ‘thrill of the hunt’ in shooting an animal that you can drive up to within 5 metres in a vehicle?    
  • ·         As far as we know the outfitter is registered with Safari Club International (SCI), who not only claim to be ‘The leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide’ but also claim to be ‘truly making a difference by having donated US$47 million for conservation worldwide since 2000’. Are they aware of the tactics being employed by this outfitter?
  • ·       The outfitter claims to have hunted exclusively on the one million acre Omay North and South blocks for over 10 years, if they have sustainably managed the wildlife in these areas why are they having to drive their clients 4 hours from their camp to the boundary of the Bumi Hills Wildlife Area to conduct their hunts?

We will dearly miss the animal that arrived as a scruffy vagrant and transformed into the king of our jungle. He gave everybody that had the privilege of meeting him invaluable memories and we can only hope that he has sown the seed for future generations to come. In an environment where we are lucky to be surrounded by a huge variety of wild animals, each with their own characters, Mandebvu certainly played a starring role in all of our lives. Rest in peace our friend.


ODE TO THE LION

Male lion, flaming light, bold burnished bright
red eyed death shadow, scion of the night
savage spawn of ancient Africa’s teeming chest
flesh and blood, milk of the mothers bleeding breast.

Even cabaret of flitting antelope and stalking slayers, wavy grasslands dance
from cavernous depths of the hallowed beast, a litany of primeval roaring
resounding across Mopani mottled bushveld, rolling rumbles of riveting resonance
beyond towering tuskers to deep blue heavens of majestic eagles soaring.

With insolent arrogance struts the macho, maned male lion
rippled muscles, steely clawed, tawny furred, fearsome fanged feline
oft outweighed but never outmatched, it preys on buffalo, baboon `n boar
with stealthy guile and cunning wile, a match for any herbivore.

But alas,
All that remain are memories in the deserted savannas silent wake
ghostly echoes refrain on wasted plains, the final challenge of a king
thus no longer do vultures circle, scavengers lope or his subjects quake
at the sunset hour elegies of legends lost when the loeries sing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

BHAPU going to KITFT 2011

The Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit has been invited to be part of the Kariba International Tiger Fishing Tournament in October. Being the 50th anniversary of the tournament a record number of anglers and teams are expected to take part this year. BHAPU will have representatives based at a stand near the weigh-bay at the NAUZ Charara site from the 24th of October for the duration of the tournament to create some much needed awareness for the initiative as well as assisting the organisers of the event by performing  marshalling duties out on the lake during the tournament to ensure all anglers abide by the rules. BHAPU, along with the other conservation initiatives around the lake play a huge part in preserving fish stocks in Lake Kariba and hopefully these efforts will be recognised by the anglers at KITFT 2011! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

17 kapenta rigs impounded during sting operation…

BHAPU with the assistance of Matusadona National Parks, impounded a record, 17 kapenta rigs last night for fishing in illegal waters during a sting operation. The fishing boats are not allowed to fish in water shallower than 20 metres as the sardine-like fish breed in the shallow waters. BHAPU have recently carried out awareness campaigns in the local fishing villages advising fishermen of the laws they are required to abide to ensure that the exploitation of this resource is sustainable. Many of them ignore these rules and warnings as it is easier to catch the juvenile fish resulting in short term gains that will have a very negative impact on the industry long term. The kapenta rigs were taken to Matusadona National Parks headquarters at Tashinga and will be kept there until the owners pay the US$2,500 deposit fine per vessel. Hopefully this operation will send a very clear message to the other fishermen that BHAPU will stop at nothing to achieve our goals.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

4 Elephants Poisoned

Today has definitely been the most disturbing day in the history of BHAPU's existence. Acting on a tip off, BHAPU scouts left at daybreak this morning on a patrol to Namembere Island, 15 km West of Bumi Hills. On the island they discovered an extremely disturbing scene play out. They spotted an elephant cow lying on the shoreline desperately trying to stand up, every time she managed to gain her footing she would collapse again in a seemingly drugged state. Over the next 30 minutes she became weaker and eventually gave up the fight and died.


A cow elephant lies dead on the shoreline after being poisoned 

As the BHAPU scouts approached the carcass to investigate further, three more elephants, two adult cows and an adolescent bull, appeared from the vegetation on the island and angrily charged the scouts, defending their relative. One of the most moving displays of elephant emotion is the grieving process. Elephants, obviously angered by the death of a family member, are extremely agressive in the weeks following the event and have been observed remembering and mourning loved ones, even many years after their death.



2 remaining members of the herd eat the laced coarse salt

The BHAPU scouts continued monitoring the elephants, from the safety of the boat, for the next hour when to their shock they noticed that second cow began to act in the same way, seemingly without full control of her limbs. 15 minutes later she too could no longer stand, despite desperate efforts, and eventually stopped moving altogether. The remaining to animals moved away from the carcasses to a sandy area on the lake shore and began began feeding on something... When the BHAPU scouts moved closer they could see that the elephants were eating something white off the beach. No sooner had the BHAPU scouts realised that this was not a natural substance than the remaining 2 elephants began staggering around on the lake shore and within 15 minutes they had both collapsed and died.

The adolescent bull struggles to keep his balance


Minutes before he collapsed and died
For the second time the scouts beached the boat and made their way onto the island, they very quickly realised that the white substance was coarse salt, that had obviously been laced with an extremely powerful poison. 


The laced coarse salt on the shoreline before BHAPU scouts removed it


This is the first time we know of that this horrific method has been used to target the wildlife in the Bumi area. The BHAPU team, cleared all the remaining salt off the island and will send it to a laborotary tomorrow to be analysed, while we currently work frantically to gather evidence on this extremely disturbing incident and find out who is responsible for carrying out this act. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Never under-estimate an elephant…

The Tonga people say and believe that ‘an elephant never forgets’. The giant pachyderms around Bumi not only remember everything but have proved to us this week that they either have an exceptional sense of smell or are extremely intelligent! Or both…
On Tuesday, the coldest day of the year so far, lodge staff alerted me to the fact that they had spotted three elephants swimming from the mainland across to Starvation Island. Although it is common for elephants to swim back and forth across the 3 kilometre gap to the island in summer, they very rarely venture into the water during winter. It took nearly 2 hours for the trio to make land on the island, but their landing coincided with BHAPU’s daily feeding session. Apparently the three elephants bustled hurriedly from one feeding point to another literally hoovering up all the specially formulated stockfeed as fast as the BHAPU scouts could distribute it!
Whether these amazing animals have worked out where we were taking this delicious feed to every day or whether their journey was by chance is a complete mystery however they now present a new challenge to the feeding operation on Starvation Island!  

Friday, July 15, 2011

ZCTF Newsletter - July 2011


        ZIMBABWE CONSERVATION TASK FORCE         

Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

Cree Indian Prophecy


13th July 2011

FEEDING FRENZY ON KARIBA ISLANDS

The Kariba Islands Feeding Programme being undertaken by the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit (BHAPU) is proving to be a great success and only 8 animals have died this year, compared with 79 last year. The BHAPU scouts have been risking their lives taking the National Foods stockfeed over to the islands daily by boat in extremely rough water to make sure the animals are fed. The animals have become so used to the feeding routine that they have almost lost their fear of humans in their attempts to be first at the feeding sites.
     
CHINESE POISON ELEPHANTS

We have received a report that a group of Chinese people are mining for uranium in the Mushumbe Pools area in the North of Zimbabwe. In addition to destroying the environment and killing a variety of wildlife in the area, it is alleged that they have killed 9 elephants by leaving loaves of poisoned bread for them to eat.

ZANU THUGS SLAUGHTER LOWVELD ELEPHANTS

2 young elephants were allegedly slaughtered by ZANU PF supporters targeting wildlife conservancies in the Lowveld.  A young elephant bull and a lactating cow were left with their heads cut off but with their tusks intact. The elephants were part of a popular herd that had become a tourist attraction. The herd was started in 1982 when some elephants were orphaned in the drought and reared by hand. They were therefore an easy target for the thugs because they trusted humans, having been bottle fed as youngsters.

THANK YOU

We would like to thank the following people who have very kindly assisted us with funding:

Liz Grainger
John & Helen Buckle
Priscilla Feratter-Mora
Jacqui Clingman
Hugh Atkinson
Chris & Robert Noon
Colin Cormack
Susan Carnahan                 



Johnny Rodrigues
Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force
Landline:        263 4 339065
Mobile:           263 712 603 213
Email:            
galorand@mweb.co.zwWebsite:        www.zctf.mweb.co.zwWebsite:        www.zimbabwe-art.comFacebook:    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=15148470211Temporary website: www.zctfofficialsite.org.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force relies soley on public donations. Your donation can help to preserve the wildlife in Zimbabwe. If you would like to assist, please contact us.